This past Lent I preached a sermon about making the season of penitence that precedes Easter meaningful to my then four-year old son. Not an easy task considering how many adults do not find meaning in Lent. One day we were playing a video game together: Skylanders Swap Force, which involves many not inexpensive accoutrements in the form of action figures that you swap out on a portal that brings their digital counterparts to life in the video game. My son is in charge of the swapping. Well into this one gaming session he turns around and asks me what the point is. “Are we just trying to beat the bad guy? Beat Kaos?” No, I tell him. There will always be a bad guy, and if you defeat one another will rise up. We are trying to free the people of Skyland, who are being held as slaves. We are liberators and all the Skylanders must work together with their gifts and graces to accomplish this mighty and worthy task. Ok, so I got a bit preachy, but I made my point. He understood at the ripe age of four that there is strength in numbers and we have a role to play in liberation. That is how I made a connection to Lent for him; by helping him see that Jesus liberated us, so that we can, in turn, liberate others.
I thought I was done using Skylander games as theological metaphors, and then Activision developed Skylanders Trap Team:
Kaos and his evil minions are back, and so are the Skylanders. This time they come to trap bad guys in traptanium crystal keys, but they don’t stay there like some envision eternal hell. Oh no, there is a great plan at work in their capture. They are transformed from enemies into companions who join the battle against evil. Redemption! A fundamental tenant of Christianity is right there before my very eyes. So when I start telling my now five-year old son about the vital role of redemption in our lives, I can point to taking your mortal enemy, i.e. Kaos, and having him become your greatest ally. Now Activision doesn’t call it love, but I took artistic license. I told my son that perhaps being stuck inside the traptanium key is like being stuck in the belly of the fish for Jonah: you have nothing but time to reflect and see where you’ve gone wrong. Then, when you are freed, you think twice about returning to your old ways, because they never got you anything but trouble anyway. I can’t help myself, so I continue by telling him the story of Paul, who was first known and feared as a man named Saul. He hated Jesus and his followers, tried to have them destroyed, even bringing them in to be killed. But God can transform all things, and God redeemed Saul, made him Paul, and set him on a new path of telling everyone about Jesus. Jesus’ greatest enemy became his greatest champion, and only the redemptive love of God can bring that kind of transformation. That is what grace, unmerited favor and forgiveness, does for us: it lets us become something wonderful and holy, of God.
Trap Team isn’t even out yet. It won’t be released until the first week in October, but my son is super excited. He wants to see what it is like to play as one of the guys we have been fighting against all this time. He wants to have them on our team. I relish that at his age he doesn’t hold a grudge. He is all ready to have Kaos come join his team, and help him accomplish the mission of the game. Faith like a child. It reminds me that we are not to hold grudges, but pray that this very same kind of redemption can happen to everyone, even our greatest foes. In my time on earth, I have made some enemies, but now I have to consider what I would do if they suddenly wanted to come join me in my endeavors. Can I forgive? Would I welcome them as prodigal brothers and sisters in Christ? I surly hope so, but for now, I can practice in Skylanders. God be praised if this becomes just a warm up for the real thing. What a miracle and blessing that would be!